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Emotional Robots: Will We Love Them or Hate Them?


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Professor William Gaver of Goldsmiths, University of London

Professor William Gaver of Goldsmiths, University of London warns that emotion sensors could undermine personal relationships.

Credit: Designing Interactions

Scientists have theorized that many technologies would function better if they were aware of their users' emotional states, and progress in this field includes face- and voice-reading computer programs and wearable equipment that measures emotional engagement by reading perspiration, heart rate, movement, and breathing. Programs that can extrapolate emotions from facial expressions are capable of recognizing disgust, anger, happiness, sadness, fear, and surprise with a great degree of accuracy, but the subject must use an exaggerated expression.

Meanwhile, a study published this year by Gwen Littlewort of the University of California, San Diego found that facial expression software can distinguish feigned pain from actual pain with unusual accuracy. Experts are concerned that emotion-sensing machines could have negative consequences. Goldsmiths, University of London designer William Gaver warns that such machines could be used in patronizing ways. He also says that personal relationships could be undermined by emotion sensors, using as an example the isolation that elderly people might feel because of monitors that track them in their home and dissuade them from visiting friends.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology computer scientist Rosalind Picard points to the dangers of covert use of emotion-sensing technologies, particularly by repressive regimes that want to identify dissidents. She says that anyone using such systems should be required to secure the informed consent from the subjects they intend to read.

From New Scientist
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